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Miracle Ball Matching Fund drive aids Arkansas Children's

by Cary Jenkins | November 21, 2021 at 2:47 a.m.
Willow with her mom, Brittney Gill, and Ashley Parker (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)


Willow is a happy, healthy 6-year-old with a smattering of freckles across her nose and who eagerly smiles to show her missing front teeth. The daughter of Brittany and John Gill, Willow was diagnosed with leukemia at Arkansas Children's Hospital (ACH) when she was 2 ½ and is now in remission.

She has spent a lot of time at the hospital, says her mother, Brittany Gill. "Especially for about 2 ½ years. It seemed like we lived there. I think it became a second home to her. She was so young at diagnosis I don't think she remembers it not being a part of her life."

Arkansas Children's is the only hospital system in the state that specifically cares for children.

Before the covid-19 pandemic, one of the biggest fundraisers for the hospital was Miracle Ball -- a glamorous formal event with dinner and entertainment. The annual event is a partnership between the Arkansas Children's Hospital Auxiliary and the Arkansas Children's Hospital Foundation.

Last year the event was virtual. This year, they are doing something totally different, says Ashley Parker, president of the auxiliary.

"We're not actually having a gala. It's going be a matching fund drive along with a raffle."

From Dec. 1-11, Jacqueline and Michael Retzer are matching every Miracle Ball Matching Fund drive donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $250,000.

For the raffle, Jones & Son Diamond & Bridal Fine Jewelry donated a 17-inch, 18-carat white gold necklace which is made with 83 diamonds totaling 29.7 carats, and 2-carat total weight diamond earrings. Retail value for the set is $125,000. Raffle tickets are $1,000 each.

There will also be an online silent auction with more than 50 items in various price ranges and seven premier items including a curated Disney trip, a generator and a Four Seasons dinner party package.

"This is truly an opportunity for everyone to get involved," Parker says. "It's not limited, like Miracle Ball, because normally there are only so many seats that we have for the dinner. This year, it's open to everyone and hopefully, when it becomes time, we can open it back up. This will bring new people that would like to be involved to now be involved -- which I think is absolutely wonderful."

The Auxiliary, which has about 500 members, serves the nonprofit hospital and its patients through a variety of fundraising and service projects, Parker says.

This includes the ACH Auxiliary Holiday Card Program. "We've expanded it this year to include not just Christmas, but also Thanksgiving and Valentine's," Parker says.

Artwork created by ACH patients is selected by a committee and is featured on a variety of holiday items. The cards are for sale here: archildrens.org/ holidaycards.

The Auxiliary also hosts A la Carte, a fundraiser featuring many Central Arkansas restaurants; Race for a Healthier Tomorrow, which was held virtually in October; and it is also in charge of the hospital's Play Away Gift Shop which benefits the hospital. The gift shop has online shopping here: playaway-giftshop. mybigcommerce.com.

Last year, the virtual 2020 Miracle Ball raised more than $885,000 for ACH, and overall, the Auxiliary raised $1.15 million to support the hospital's David M. Clark Center for Safe & Healthy Children, renovation of the hospital's outdoors spaces, Arkansas Children's Research Institute and the Palliative Care, Good Mourning and Comfort Foods programs.

Willow's mother remembers spending long periods of time at ACH including Willow spending a month in isolation. "I think that was one of our longest stays."

She says the staff at the hospital is amazing. "They have all been wonderful! I credit them for saving my child's life and I will forever do my best to pay it forward."

On Nov. 19, she says, it was two years since Willow rang the bell signifying she was in remission.

To participate in Miracle Ball Matching Fund Drive, become a sponsor, make a donation, purchase a raffle ticket or participate in the silent auction, visit miracleballgala.com.


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